Sitting on a gym ball (aka. Swiss ball, exercise ball, yoga ball or posture ball) is in fashion, but is it really the healthy choice for your spine? Let's go back to the basics and see if the promise of relieving lower back pain is kept…
WHAT IS A GOOD SITTING POSTURE?
When you sit well, your sitting posture fulfills these two conditions:
- it distributes your weight across your tissues (i.e. avoid overloading your discs, or your neck, etc.)
- it transfers as much weight as possible to "a third party" (aka. a lumbar support).
The first posture below (on the sitting bones and against the lumbar support) fulfills the requirements, but not the next ones
- a hollow back will contract the lower back muscles overload the intervertebral cartilage (hence increase the pace and severity of osteoarthritis),
- a round back will overload the intervertebral discs (hence increase the risk of hernia) and push your head and shoulders forward (hence increase the risk of neck pain and headaches).
Some people think that using a fitness ball as an office chair is the only way to feel comfortable. Very often, I observe that they don't know how to adjust their chair or that they sit for too long in a row (i.e. more than 30 min).
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SITTING ON A BALL AT WORK?
If we compare an exercise ball vs. a chair, we see that the exercise ball is designed to create instability: there is a big risk that you cannot stabilize your pelvis around a neutral posture. Immediately, your spine will pay the price.
Secondly, if you sit on a Swiss ball instead of an office chair, you loose the possibility to rest your belt (i.e. your pelvis) on the lumbar support: part of your weight stays on your tissues. To avoid slouching, most people pull their heels backwards and thereby hollow their back, which can cause lower back pain.
Bringing your heels backwards is also the idea behind a kneeling chair: to avoid slouching, let's hollow the back!
DOES SITTING ON A BALL HELP YOUR BACK?
You could think that if you know how to sit on an exercise ball, you will train your back muscles. This is another misunderstanding of what sports is: high intensity, short duration, prolonged rest. Sitting on an exercise ball at work is the very contrary of this: it does not create the cardiovascular benefits of sports, but rather tissue inflammation (see The physical activity paradox, by Andreas Holtermann).
DOES THIS MEAN YOU SHOULD BAN GYM BALLS?
No, it doesn't. The problem isn't the ball: it's how long and how frequently you'll be sitting on your exercise ball at the office.
My advice is: if you like your gym ball, use it... but only 10 min at a time, max 3-4 times a day, and during activities that do not require an intense concentration. See it as a tool to train sitting position despite unstable conditions, not as some kind of "fitness office chair".
SO, HOW TO SIT ON A BALL AT THE DESK?
The sitting posture you should aim for is the same as on an ergonomic office chair: on your sitting bones, with your weight distributed equally between left and right.
To make your life easier,
- your heels should be vertically under your knees,
- the knees should be spread a little (this increases the pressure around the sacroiliac joint, which in turn stabilizes the spine),
- the knees should form an angle of at least 90° (an electric sit stand desk is recommended, as the ball isn't necessarily as high as your chair),
- you should be sitting around the apex of the ball (if you sit on the slope, your pelvis will tilt).
To hold the pelvis in this neutral posture, you should engage the lower transverse abs (under the navel): if you bring them slightly inwards, you increase the pressure around the lower spine, which stabilizes it. This muscle effort explains why you can't sit for too long on a gym ball.
HOW ABOUT A CHAIR WITH A BALL FOR SEAT?
When a product fails to deliver on its promises, you always see manufacturers developing another expensive product, which will also fail. This is the very story of the ergo ball chair (aka gym ball chair)...
Here, the intention is to provide a lumbar support onto the sitting ball. But if you sit on the apex of the ball, the lumbar support if far away! And if you want to sit against the lumbar support, you have to sit on the slope of the ball, which will tilt your pelvis and make you slouch.
Hence, if you want to buy an "ergonomic ball chair", make sure that the lumbar support can be pushed forward enough!
SO... A YOGA BALL FOR ALL?
A yoga ball, gym ball, exercise ball, posture ball or whatever name you want to give it is therefore a training tool, not an office chair.
Hence, I do not recommend that companies invest in yoga balls instead of individually adjusted ergonomic office chairs.
As an individual, you may use a gym ball to train sitting position, when your mind is not busy somewhere else.
I believe that we should invest in expensive things only when there's no other choice: an ergonomic office chair is a must work in proper conditions but for the rest, I prefer to get postural variation from adapting my working style (e.g., stand for phone calls and video conferences) and taking short but frequent breaks during which I practice this short exercise for effective muscle relaxation. The less I depend on "things", I more free I am.
To feel durably better and avoid wasting money on costly accessories, join the Online Posture Programs, the only empowering offer to correct your posture!
For more details also checkout our website here :- https://www.trainyourposture.com/